Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System

Aside

This short excerpt comes from a book titled, “Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System,” (Hijmans, B. L.).
It touches on a variety of topics, and this particular bit touches Stoic theology.  I’ve worked through it once “quickly,” it relies heavily on primary sources, often not in translation, with the occasional German, French, and Latin thrown in for good measure.

I’m going to need to sit down and spend some serious time with this before my thoughts are finalized, but initial impressions are high favorable.  The book is exceedingly well-researched.

Now, on to Stoic Theology…

Whenever we discuss the God of the Stoics, Zeus, Providence, or any other word for this concept in Stoicism, there is often an immediate knee-jerk like reaction from many that prompts them to argue against the Abrahamic God.  This short paragraph should lay that particular point to rest, and begin to show how the piety of Epictetus is based in gratitude for reason.  Specifically λόγος ὀρθός, or “right reason,” and the prohairesis.

I’ve been wrangling with the conception of Stoic theology and piety for some time, and I think can begin with gratitude and an appreciation for natural beauty.  I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

Enchiridion 1 and what’s up to us.

Aside

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

In Enchiridion 1, Epictetus through Arrian discusses which things are “up to us,” (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν).  He does not provide a definition, although we can use the short hand and definitive prohairetic things.  Instead, Epictetus gives us a list of examples, whereby we can infer the general rule or type of things he’s discussing.

He ends this list, which I interpret not to be a closed class, with what’s often translated as “whatever are our own actions/works.” Oftentimes, this word ἔργα (erga) is translated as actions, works, deeds, etc.  A literal reading is often “works.”

It is not the person who eagerly listens to and makes notes of what is
spoken by the philosophers who is ready for philosophizing, but the
person who is ready to transfer the prescriptions of philosophy to his
deeds (erga) and to live in accord with them.

— Arius Didymus

I came across another interesting translation which uses “whatever we bring about.” That’s an interesting take, probably closer to the spirit of the passage in Ench.1.  As Stoics, we’re more concerned with the intent of a thing than its results in the world.  We’re more concerned about how we handle judgments and impressions than how the results of those go out from us.  “Whatever we bring about” then encompasses these internal things, our actual focus, better than do the English words “works,” “actions,” or “deeds.”

‘Right reason’ and the Stoic Sage

Aside

I’m reading the Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes, and I’ve come across a phrase that either I didn’t register before, I’d forgotten, or I skipped somehow. That is ‘right reason’ (Gr: ὀρθὸς λόγος).

One of the binary distinctions that exist in Stoicism is between the actions of the Sage versus that of the the layman or ‘untrained person’ (Gr: ἰδιώτης):

The layman’s actions (even when appropriate) are always insane or mistakes. When they are according to his nature, they are kathēkonta (Gr: καθήκοντα), ‘appropriate actions.’

The Sage’s actions (even if outwardly the same as the above, are katorthōmata (Gr: κατόρθωματα), or ‘perfect actions.’ Only the Sage has ‘perfect actions.’

The Sage comes about this distinction, the ability to make perfect actions, because her actions are focused to the good, and that comes about through ‘right reason’ (Gr: ὀρθὸς λόγος). This concept of ‘right reason’ is interesting to me, and I was wondering if anyone had seen any longer, more in-depth studies on that?

Logos can be a tricky term in Stoic jargon, but in my reading, it’s being used here in the common understanding of “logic, or reason,” and not the capital-L Logos type.

If anyone has any resources on ὀρθὸς λόγος, shoot them my way in the comments, please.